Does the camera lie? Realism in project pictures

Ever had the experience of not being able to get a decent picture of a garment you’re really pleased with? Or then there’s the project that you’re not very happy with that nevertheless seems to photograph well. How much effort do you go to for project pictures?

I started thinking about this because recently I was looking for feedback on a failed project. I made an effort to photograph it in the way I would for something that had worked: put some makeup and pretty shoes on, took quite a few shots and picked the better ones. It doesn’t look as bad in the pictures as it feels. But I really would not wear this dress out of the house. And going in the other direction, here’s a dress that I do wear but that didn’t photograph at all well.

So while photos are very interesting to look at, and I certainly enjoy looking at pictures on sewing blogs, can we really trust what we see? The acid test has got to be how something actually feels to wear.

I rarely wear things in real life in exactly the way I photograph them. If I’m getting dressed for work there are lower heels, rather more layers, and usually I forget to put lipstick on. So the pictures aren’t realistic in that sense. But for me a part of the fun of blogging is styling things in a way that I’d like to be able to wear them; if only I didn’t walk to work and have a job that involves climbing ladders and heavy lifting. I should say, I like the job and I like the walking. I just wish they were more compatible with my favourite shoes.

Here’s a rare picture of one of my projects styled as it is usually worn, although you’ll have to imagine the pockets stuffed full of the junk I drag around with me at work.

Burda 116-08-2011

And here’s the grey version of the same dress styled in the way I usually do for blog photos.

Burda 116-08-2011

I tried wearing the shoes I’ve paired with the grey dress to work one time. I ended up walking around in my socks and getting the bus home. So I can’t say the above picture is realistic in the sense that this how I normally wear the dress, but I don’t have a problem with putting it out there. It’s how I’d like to wear the dress, and I think getting close to the look you aspire to have is a big part of the fun of sewing for yourself. I really like blogs which project the owner’s personal style. Check out Ooobop!, Kazz, and Alice‘s blogs for the sort of thing I mean.

Finally there’s the question of how much editing to do. My normal procedure is to get a lot of shots, pick the better ones, crop them, and maybe adjust the contrast. If the colour’s really off I’ll adjust that too. For me, doing any more editing than this crosses a line between an image that’s real, even if not representative of daily life, and one that’s artifical. I don’t have any objection to photo editing to produce a good image, but I’m avoiding it on my own blog because here I’m trying to achieve looks that exist in real life. Full discolosure: I did once edit some flyaway hair and a lamp post out of a set of photos. But I try not to make a habit of it.

So I’m pretty sure my own photos are not truly ‘realistic’ in some senses of the word, although I try to keep them ‘real’. But I’ll keep on producing them this way for the blog because it’s enjoyable.

Do you prefer realism or fantasy on sewing blogs? Which do you aim for?

27 thoughts on “Does the camera lie? Realism in project pictures

  1. Love this post!! I have found the very same thing happens to me. I take a bunch of pics and choose the best ones’s. As far as editing goes I’m not that good with it so I’ll crop out objects that I feel are distracting and lighten it enough to see the details and that’s it. Most days I’m in a hurry to either get out of the house for work (so I have on make up!) or it’s evening and I’m trying to catch the rest of daylight. I like you dress up my clothing for the way I might wear them for someplace special but most days I don’t wear 4″ heels to work. Sometimes I like to do “how I wore it” Very Interesting topic!

  2. Very interesting post! I’ll crop, boost the colour, add a pretty frame if I’m in the mood… I try to be honest yet flattering! I know readers appreciate well lit and detailed shots, so I take a bit of time.

  3. I’ve figured out it’s easiest to take photos late morning where I live to see the garments and sweaters’ details best. I usually wear sweat bottoms, no shoes (other than my fave flip flops) and certainly no makeup when I take shots because if I’m home, I’m not working and that is how I roll. If my head looks too awful I just crop it out. Not very glamorous but that’s me.

    That said, I do enjoy your lovely pics, as well as other bloggers who make more of an effort than I do, but styling clothes as you’d wear them may be an interesting experiment for the blog for a few months.

  4. I really try to make sure the live are good. I rarely wear make-up but for the pics I try to use it. Heels are another matter I rarely wear since having Noah, but I wear them for pics. I take loads, then select the best ones, crop them, and adjust the contrast. That’s about it.

  5. Great post! I love/envy other bloggers’ photos because it’s not something I do particularly well. I only minimally edit for flash and contrast (I have very poor natural light). I generally style things pretty close to the way I wear them.

    I know what you mean about things not photographing well or photographing better than reality. I think that is why I try not to rely too much on muslin photos. They can be deceiving. It always amazes me when a blogger posts a photo of a garment and there is not a single crease or wrinkle.

  6. I hate the whole photographing process of blogging, which is why my blogs are few and far between. I guess I enjoy the fantasy photo pics the best. I know it’s fantasy, but I love to see these perfect garments, so that I have something to aspire to. For me though, I’m always trying to get the angle that makes me look the youngest – ha! It’s all part of the fantasy ; )

  7. Since I don’t have a great camera or one of the cords to click the camera from afar, I usually resort to having my 5 yr old take my picture with my iphone. And because of his lack of patience, I only ever get three shots (front, back, side) out of the so called photo shoot. There are never loads to choose from. So editing is my friend. But my editing is usually only about contrast, color, exposure changes. I do crop to get a more symmetrical and pleasing photo, but generally don’t do any ambitious editing (but that’s because I don’t know how to mostly).

  8. Thanks Catherine!

    I do prefer reality photos, I have to say. I, too, like to get a sense of the person’s particular style.

    For myself, I’m usually a bit too aware that all my photos seem to be taken in the house, in the same two or three spots, and usually in bad light. Also, I never do my make-up any differently to how it would be for the day, and my hair is almost always beyond help and stuffed under a headband. But don’t let that fool you into thinking I am not fussy about how I look in blogland. Like Janis, I always try to choose the photo that makes me look youngest! If you ever meet me in real life I will probably scare you with all my wrinkles and the like! I don’t “doctor” my photos beyond cropping, as I don’t even know how. Not a clue!

    I do find it frustrating when I think something looks great on me, and then the photos disagree. I took some photos of a new top a few days ago and had to choose the best of a bad bunch when it came to the blog (haven’t posted them yet). But it doesn’t put me off the item if I feel good in it to start off with.

    Catherine, your photos are always clear and straight to the point, and you always look great. Your blog is always one of my faves.

  9. I take a lot of photos too and then choose the best of the lot. I think most bloggers do that. I will also crop out things that I don’t want in the pictures and lighten them a little bit if needed but that’s the extent of my photo editing because that’s all I know how to do. The make up I’m wearing in photos is the make up I wear every day and my shoe collection is what I wear at work. But then I work in the kind of place where all the women wear heels…it’s kind of expected. However, I will admit to being vain enough to only pick out the skinniest and best looking pics…oh and I try to take a lot of detailed photos to because I know sewists like to see details.

  10. I enjoy beautiful photographs of garments that are styled in a realistic fashion. For example I love Handmade by Carolyn photographs because while the pictures are artistic and beautiful, to me, she looks so natural, just going about her day effortlessly.

  11. I take oodles of pics and then pick the best one. Very rarely do I end up with a good first shot, although the me-made challenges are great for making me take realistic photos and make me think about what I’m wearing. Some garments I really love and, like you, I’ve found photograph horribly. And vice versa, of course. I won’t retouch unless it’s horribly overexposed or the colour’s not right, and I will crop out extraneous stuff. I think most bloggers will. However choose the blog pics, I love your style and seeing what you’ve made and how you put your outfits together. Keep posting!

  12. What an interesting post!!! Like you, I often style my outfits how I’d like to wear them, rather than how I actually wear them. I too walk to work, so I always wear flats, but in blog pictures you will see me sporting some of my fancier shoes.For me personally, I prefer my photos not to be unrealistic…I’ll only end up disappointing people when I meet them in the flesh ;o) I do take a lot, pic the best, re-size them and adjust colour/contrast accordingly, but that’s as far as I go. The most annoying thing is when things just don’t photograph well, despite editing…gggrrrr!

  13. Other than picking the best shots I don’t alter the photos, I am yet to figure out Lightroom.
    I love adding accessories and fancy shoes and I do wear my clothes OTT as I can get away with it at my work.
    Despite all of the above I focus more on my background, I live in a gorgeous place and people seem to enjoy that as much as the clothes, and when I make casual clothes and wear them I do often wear them barefoot on the beach!

  14. I enjoy your photos (as well as the words that go with them!).
    I don’t have a problem with you wearing heels with garments when you probably wouldn’t wear heels everyday with that garment. After all you are showing us the garment styled, on you, not on a dress form.
    Realistic photos are interesting too.

    For my own blog photos, my husband or my daughter take lots of photos and then I edit for colour and contrast and crop. I try to pick the most flattering photos too. I usually wear the amount of makeup I normally do and most of my shoes are the ones I wear with the garment.

  15. I do the same thing a lot, though I also sometimes completely forget to put shoes on at all and have to retake my pictures!
    I really like the way you’ve styled your red dress, you should try doing both – styling it how you would wear it and how you want to wear it.

  16. I think a mix of reality & fantasy photos can be warranted, given the outfit. But I agree about not photoshopping it all. Cropping & color correction yes, reshaping your body no. Also, I took another look at your striped dress. I think what might be odd about it is that the placement of the stripes on the back is symmetrical, but that those on the front are not.

  17. Yes, same over here too – sometimes the absolutely unwearable stuff photographs really well while what I’m proudest of photographs badly! It’s quite frustrating – something to look into I guess as there are probably fabric types and colours that just don’t photograph well.

    Although I appreciate a pretty photo, I also like to see something real. I’m quite OK with “best it can be” real rather than “I was in a rush for work so I chucked it on and took a snap with my phone” real though!

    This year I’ve been trying to post better pictures, but I’m trying to achieve it by starting with better photos, which usually means waiting for someone else to be available to take photos for me.All the editing I’ll do is straightening (oops – nearly every photo!), cropping, and lightening or darkening to make the garment easier to see. If my photos are washed out I’ll boost the colour saturation too. Oh and I’ve started whacking my blog name on the photos too since I came across some of my pics in tumblr.

  18. Thanks Catherine, brilliant post, loved reading everyone’s comments.

    For me I like to see big, bold, clear photos that tell the story, I can sometimes tell in the comments if people haven’t read the post so I try and tell the story with the photos too. I make an effort to make the post visually appealing because that’s what draws me back to other blogs, great photos where people have made an effort. I use photoshop all the time, I crop and apply Photoshop Actions in a batch. It makes the task of boosting colours, hue, saturation, curves etc easier and quicker. The way I see it is, you’ve put all that effort into sewing the garment why skip on the photography? A fantasy post comes in handy when I can’t get outdoors, it’s just me in front of a white backdrop which I think helps you see the clothes better whack some fancy typography in and voila! well that me anyway.

    Have a great week Catherine.

  19. Like everyone said, great post!

    I definitely style my outfit the way I would wear it. I often do my photos at the start of the day because that’s when my husband can take the photos. I don’t change out of them, just carry on into the day. I have loads of heels but never think to use them in the photos, I guess it’s mostly because I forget I have them since I don’t wear them in London.

    I definitely edit my photos: brighten, crop, get the colors true, etc. I always use the best shots, ensuring I don’t look too squinty or unflattering. But if I had the proper software I would love for them to look a bit more glossy and clearer, if that makes sense.

  20. Got me thinking there Catherine!
    For me is was a choice between having a lifestyle blog and a sewing blog.
    Having a lifestyle blog is a job! It means dressing up everyday, styling everything, putting on make up, taking pictures of your chocolate cake and styling that as well etc…
    I really love reading them but, I don’t do that in real life, so I don’t do it on my blog. I do wait for fair weather to take pictures but for the rest it’s pretty WYSWIG.
    It was a decision I made early on, because I am lazy, because I am not photogenic and because I didn’t want to make someone up. It’s me, this is what I do and in a way, this is what I want to see in blogs and you are doing mighty fine.

  21. Great post! I’ve had garments that I’ve photographed several times and hated every image, something just isn’t right about it, one top I took photos on three separate days before just giving up and posting the best I could manage.

    Sometimes I think if just depends on what mood I am in when I look at photos of myself.

    Hems really annoy me, it can look perfectly invisible in real life but for some reason the camera can see every.single.stitch! Argh

    I also used to really dress up for my photos but now I usually just take a picture of the garment with the shoes I’d pair it with and that’s pretty much me as it, my hair is however I did it that day and make up isn’t compulsory fo me 😉
    However, if I am really proud of an item I will make more of an effort and I’ll try and go somewhere interesting for the photos.

    I correct colour and contrast too (my last lot of photos was taken at night so I had to make the flash less harsh!) only to the point where it looks correct and real. I hate seeing photos of garments with crazy filters on them unless it follows on from some “proper” garment photos or makes sense due to some story attached to the garment. Detail shots are good too.

  22. I adjust curves to get brighter pics since London light is generally pretty awful. Cropping follows but that’s about it. I occasionally wear shoes that I might not always wear in real life but I rarely wear heels at all so it’s not usually a problem! My husband takes the shots so it’s a matter of taking loads of pics and then sorting through to find the best. I would love someone to do a wee tutorial on getting the best from your pics using photoshop or gimp. Any great pic editors out there willing to do just that?! We’d all love you forever… thanks for a great post Catherine!

  23. Yes! I’m definitely for realism too… the reason I am wearing thongs in a lot of my shots haha! Since I rarely wear makeup irl then I don’t in my photos either. What appears on my blog is what I am wearing that day. With the photos: I straighten and crop (because I have a thing for square photos) and sometimes adjust for colour in iPhoto if it hasn’t turned out true to the colours of the clothes. I never photoshop either, since I do not know how. And I take all my own photos, so unfortunately I do not have someone telling me if something looks funny.

  24. So tough. I love looking at stylised pictures… who doesn’t? But for me, I have zero skills in that department so every photo I post is me, completely unadultered. Sometimes that makes for not so glamourous photos… and I temporarily feel like a bad blogger. Then I remember the ‘Things I’m afraid to tell you’ meme and I cheer up a bit. I don’t mind being boring, how else would non-boring people (like Natalie from Laika Dollm for instance) stand out? But I do try to get the best angle of my self-made clothes. Always. And it craps me out no end when they don’t photograph well!
    Great post Catherine – love your style!

  25. I realized I hadn’t left commented on this awesome post yet. You inspired me to blog on the same subject, so thank you so much for writing on this subject.

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